Maintaining Your Pom’s Health and Happiness

Love Dog

In This Chapter

  • Setting the course: Regular checkups and vaccinations
  • Standing guard on your dog’s health
  • Dealing with worms and pests
  • Making life simple for you and your Pom: Castration and spaying
  • Easing your Pom into senior-citizenship
You are your dog’s single most important healthcare worker because you’re the one who sees to her everyday health and makes vital decisions about her care. When to vaccinate? What about worms? What’s the hurry with spaying and castration? How can you keep your dog healthy, and how do you know when he’s not? All of a sudden you have to play healthcare professional. Fortunately, you have help.

Visiting the Vet: Checkups and Vaccinations

Now is the time to get to know your Pomeranian’s other major cretaker, his veterinarian. Don’t wait until you have an emergency because you may have trouble getting an appointment if you’re not already a client. Instead, establish a relationship when your dog is healthy.

The annual rendezvous

Your Pom should have an annual checkup — at least. Dogs age so rapidly compared to humans that an annual one is like a sevenyear checkup for you. Especially when she’s older (say, 7 years on up) she may need more frequent checkups. So don’t procrastinate. Besides taking your puppy’s weight, the vet normally covers the following bases:

– Checks the knees

– Listens to her heart

– Checks the eyes, ears, and teeth

– May gently palpate her internal organs to check for enlargements or tumors

Note: You may have the option of blood or urine tests. These tests can provide valuable early warnings of several serious disorders and are usually a good idea. However, tests can add up in cost, so discuss those fees beforehand. For example, a basic CBC (complete blood count, which checks for anemia and infection-fighting cells) might cost $20 to $40; one that also includes various typical blood chemistry values may run $70 to $90. If your dog is ill, and your vet suggests these tests, get them. If he’s not ill, discuss whether you really need them just for baseline results.

Understanding vaccinations

Not so long ago, veterinarians generally believed that the more vaccinations, the better. But no longer. Now veterinarians and researchers advocate giving dogs only the vaccinations they need, only when they need them. Makes sense, right? But what vaccinations does your dog need and when?

The two main types

Vaccinations fall into two categories:

Core vaccines: Advisable for all dogs for rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis (see Table 10-1)

Noncore vaccines: Advisable only for some dogs for leptospirosis, coronavirus, tracheobronchitis, Lyme disease, and giardia

Tip

Your veterinarian can advise you whether your dog’s lifestyle and environment make him a candidate for any of these noncore vaccines. For example, leptospirosis is a concern for dogs that walk in wildlife areas. Lyme disease is a concern for dogs in certain areas of the country. Most boarding kennels require a recent (within 6 months) tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) vaccination and core vaccinations.

The whens and whats of vaccinations

Your puppy receives her early immunity through antibodies in her mother’s colostrum (the first 24 hours of milk flow following birth). As long as the pup still has that immunity, vaccinations don’t do her any good. But by the time she’s several weeks old, that initial immunity begins to fade and she becomes more vulnerable to communicable diseases. Fortunately, her immune system also becomes more responsive to vaccinations.

Remember

If all puppies lost their initial immunity at the same age and rate, vaccinations would be easy. But because immunity diminishes at different times in different dogs, you need to give a series of vaccinations starting around 6 weeks of age so you can vaccinate at just the right time (after vaccinations become effective and before she’s unprotected).

Warning!

During this time of uncertainty, keep your pup away from places where unvaccinated dogs may congregate. Some deadly viruses, such as parvovirus, can remain in the soil for six months after an infected dog has shed the virus in its feces there.

Table 10-1
Core Vaccinations and Frequency
Age
Shot
Purpose
Other
6 weeks
A series of injections over the course of a varying number of weeks
Protect puppies from distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis
16 weeks
Rabies
Protect against
rabies
1 year after puppy shot series and then every 1–3 years
Rabies booster
Protect against rabies
Frequency depends on local law
Every 6 months
Booster for kennel cough, if appropriate
Prevent kennel cough
This is optional
Every 3 years after puppy’s first year
Boosters for core vaccines
Prevent distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis

Don’t hedge your bets on herd immunity

Some proponents of natural rearing condemn vaccinations; they prefer using homeopathic nosodes (medicine prepared from the diseased part or discharge of something, which supposedly works as well as a vaccination). These people point to their dogs’ good health as proof that nosodes work. However, their good fortune is probably the result of herd immunity, that is, as long as most other dogs are vaccinated, the unvaccinated dogs rarely come in contact with the infectious agents.
No controlled study has ever supported the effectiveness of nosodes. Vaccinations aren’t without a downside, but they’re essential components of your dog’s healthy future.

Tip

Some owners elect to test a dog’s blood titers (test to check a dog’s level of immune defenses) to various diseases to see whether he needs a booster. A high titer generally indicates protection, but a low titer doesn’t mean the dog isn’t protected.

Dealing with bad reactions

Occasionally a dog has a bad reaction to a vaccination. This problem occurs most often in toy dogs, which, of course, include Pomeranians. The dog may seem tired and sore for the next day or two. On rare occasions, the dog may get hives or vomit. Call your veterinarian if your pup has either of these symptoms.
In order to quickly counter a bad reaction (or to avoid one entirely), take the following precautions:

Give your Pom an antihistamine before she gets her shots. Many Pom breeders suggest this. Ask your veterinarian beforehand about the proper type and dose of antihistamine.

Ask your veterinarian to skip the leptospirosis vaccine. Leptospirosis, while a serious disease, is most often encountered in areas where wild animals urinate. This vaccine has been associated with the most adverse reactions in young dogs. You can probably put it off until later.

Hang around the veterinary clinic for about 20 minutes following vaccinations. This wait time allows your dog quick access to treatment if she experiences a reaction.

Be sure to remind your veterinarian on subsequent visits about any adverse reactions your dog has had to vaccinations.

Warning!

Some toy dog owners believe their dogs may have bad reactions because vaccinations aren’t given by weight. Your 5-pound Pom gets the same amount as a 105-pound Pyrenees. But eight has nothing to do with it. A virus infects a small dog the same way it infects a large dog — by acting on his immune system. So a vaccine has to act on the immune system the same way. Don’t be tempted to vaccinate your dog yourself so you can lessen the dosage.

Playing Doctor: The Do-It-Yourself Checkup

You plan to take your dog to the veterinarian for an annual checkup, but that doesn’t mean you just close your eyes to her health the rest of the year. Set aside five minutes a week — you need to groom her that often anyway — to do a quick home health-check.
Start with some overall considerations:

Has her behavior changed? Sudden changes could mean she’s in pain or has some sort of neurological problem. She needs to be seen by the vet this week.

Does she act listless, weak, or confused? These can be signs of pain, fever, anemia, neurological problems, or general illness. She needs to go to the vet today. Check her temperature and gum color to report to the vet when you make the call.

Is she limping? This could indicate knee problems (patellar luxation) or injury. If it’s not too bad, give it a day, then go to the vet if she’s still limping.

Is she coughing, wheezing, or gagging? She could have kennel cough, congestive heart failure, or tracheal collapse. If she’s having difficulty breathing, she needs to see the vet today.

Is she urinating or drinking more than usual? She could have diabetes, kidney failure, or a urinary tract infection. She needs to see the vet this week.

Has her appetite changed? She could have any number of problems. Take her temperature, check her over, and if she still has a poor appetite in a couple of days, take her to the vet.

Has she lost or gained weight? She could have cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, Cushing’s syndrome, or any number of problems. Get her checked by the vet this week.

Are her stools normal? If diarrhea continues for another day, call the vet and ask if you should bring her in.

Next, give her body a once-over:

Are her bones and muscles fairly symmetrical on both sides? Any asymmetry could indicate muscle wasting, tumors, or broken bones. Take her to the vet this week.

Do you feel new bumps or masses? First, don’t freak out. Dogs are good at growing noncancerous bumps. But have it checked out this week.

Does she act like anything hurts? Depending on the problem, she could have a urinary tract infection, slipped disk, or who knows? Take her to the vet!

Is her skin clear, without crusting or hair loss? It’s not an emergency, but skin conditions could be caused by parasites or infections. Take her to the vet soon.

Now start at the front and work back:

Are her gums pink, as they should be? Pale gums indicate anemia or internal bleeding, gray gums indicate poor circulation, and gums with little red blotches indicate a potentially serious blood-clotting problem. All of these are potential emergencies. See the vet now!

Are her teeth clean and secure? Dirty, loose teeth can cause pain and additional disease. She may need an appointment for a teeth cleaning under anesthesia.

Are her eyes clear and without significant discharge? A bit of clear discharge is normal, but goopy, green discharge means irritation or infection. See the vet the next day.

Are her ears clean? A little dirt is fine, but if they’re clogged with debris, she may have an infection or mites. Your veterinarian can diagnose the problem and prescribe a cure. Go in the next day or so.

Are her nails short and without splits? If not, cut them! If they’re split, you can tape them. If you can’t handle nail care yourself, have your vet do it this week.

Are her feet without cuts or foreign objects? Treat cuts like you would your own, by cleaning and gobbing on antibiotic goop. Spray a bitter-tasting spray (your vet sells this) on it to keep her from licking it, or wrap a bandage around it. If it’s deep, your vet may need to clean or suture it.

Is her at-rest pulse between 70 and 120 beats per minute? See Chapter Doctoring Your Dog to find out how to check your dog’s pulse. If it’s outside this range, recheck it when she’s calmer (if it’s too fast) or call your vet.

Is her temperature around 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit? Don’t freak out if it’s a degree higher or lower. But, if it’s down to 98 or up to 103 degrees, call the veterinarian. If it’s below 98 or above 105 degrees, it’s an emergency. Call the emergency veterinarian and warm or cool your dog in the meantime.

Remember

To check your dog’s temperature, hold her still with one hand, lift her tail high and forward with the other, and have a helper insert a lubricated rectal thermometer about an inch into her rectum. If you’re on your own, use the same hand to hold her and lift her tail. The digital models are easiest to use and beep when they’re ready; otherwise, leave the thermometer in place for about a minute.

Avoiding the Worm Farm: Preventive Measures

A cornucopia of little bloodsuckers can live inside your dog. We commonly refer to them as worms whether they look like worms or not. Some are deadly, some are just nuisances, but you should aim to prevent them all!

Heartworms

Heartworms are deadly parasites carried by mosquitoes. If your Pom has any chance of being bitten by a mosquito, she needs to be on preventive heartworm medication.

Tip

Your veterinarian can advise you when to start giving your pup the medication; the recommendations vary by location. Most veterinarians prefer to start dogs on preventive medication before they’re 4 months old. Dogs over 6 months of age need a simple blood test to check for heartworms before beginning heartworm prevention. The once-a-month preventive, which works by targeting heartworms at a particular life phase, is safe and effective. reatment is available for heartworms, but prevention is far cheaper, easier, and safer.

Intestinal parasites

Most pups have worms at some point because some types of worms lie dormant and protected in the dam. When a dog is pregnant and experiences hormonal changes, the worms become active and infect the puppies as fetuses, or through her milk. Puppies also can pick up worms from the environment. The breeder should have checked and (if necessary) dewormed your pup before sending him home with you, but it doesn’t hurt to check your Pom again on his first checkup and periodically after that (the eggs don’t always show up in tests).

Remember

Your dog can also pick up worms from the ground where other dogs congregate. The best prevention at home is to clean up feces immediately, but purging a yard of some kinds of worms can be difficult.

There’s one kind of worm that’s easy to spot: the tapeworm. You can see flat segments wiggling around on your dog’s fresh stool (don’t get too enthralled studying them or your neighbors will definitely think you’re weird), or they may look like dry rice stuck around your dog’s butt. Tapeworms are different from other intestinal worms in that your dog picks them up mostly by eating fleas. Think your dog wouldn’t eat fleas? She sure would, when she’s nibbling at something biting her. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication to rid her of the tapeworms, but the best prevention is to keep the fleas off.
Two other common intestinal parasites aren’t worms but protozoans (single-celled organisms). Dogs and especially puppies pick them up in the environment, so avoiding them is difficult.

Giardia is fairly common in both puppies and dogs. Although many dogs have no symptoms, some dogs with giardia tend to have loose, light-colored stools. Giardia is diagnosed with a stool sample and can be treated with medicine from your veterinarian.

Coccidia may or may not cause overt symptoms, and it’s diagnosed with a stool sample. Over-the-counter dewormer treatments are not effective.

Preventing Bugs: Fleas, Ticks, and Mites

Depending on your location and the season, at some point fleas and ticks will try to make your dog’s body their breakfast — and lunch and dinner. It’s best to keep some long-acting flea repellant, such as the ones that are stored in the skin and wick out over the course of a month or two, on your dog even before flea season.
If you’re in a tick-infested area, you need to apply some hands-on care by meticulously feeling and examining your Pom’s body down to the skin, paying special attention to the ears, neck, and between the toes.
For more on fleas, ticks, mites, and your dog, check out Chapter Doctoring Your Dog.

Castrating and Spaying

Pomeranians begin to reach sexual maturity at about 6 months of age. The male’s testicles begin to grow in size, and his mind turns to thoughts of the fairer sex. The female doesn’t give you any clues until one day you’re shocked to see her bloody vaginal discharge. If you have both a male and female, prepare for the worst three weeks of your life.

Knowing what to expect

At first, caring for your she-dog in heat doesn’t seem so bad. She’s messy, but you can keep her confined or have her wear those little bitch’s britches for dogs in heat. Of course, she needs to urinate more often when she’s in season just so she can advertise her beautiful scent, and of course, she does it in those pretty little britches, so you’d better buy several sets. The males are sort of interested, but not much. In fact, you may start thinking your girl lacks sex appeal. This is the phase meant to lull you into complacency.
Somewhere in the second or third week, her scent changes. Males find her the most alluring creature to ever walk the earth, and they howl, dig, whine, and travel great distances to woo her. Your chaste little girl is suddenly acting like a harlot, and you’re counting the days until your personal time in purgatory ends. Great news! In six months, you can expect it to happen all over again.

Lowering the sexual zest

You can nip (or snip) the promiscuity of your Pom in the bud by castrating your male or spaying your female. But the advantage to doing this before your dog reaches sexual maturity depends on the sex of the dog:

Male: When a male reaches sexual maturity, he starts to lift his leg when urinating in order to mark objects in his territory, which include your furniture. He may also become more aggressive toward other dogs. The longer he practices these behaviors, the more likely they’ll persist after neutering.

Female: The advantage to spaying a female before her first season is medical rather than behavioral. Spaying before her first heat season drastically reduces her chance of breast cancer later in life. Spaying before her second season helps, too, but not as much, and after that season, spaying has little benefit against breast cancer. Spaying at any time eliminates the possibility of pyometra, a potentially fatal infection of the uterus that’s common in dogs.

Tip

The best age to castrate or spay is around 5 or 6 months. This timing gives your Pomeranian a chance to grow, making surgery a little easier. Because toy dogs often retain baby teeth alongside their permanent teeth, the surgery also provides an opportunity for the veterinarian to remove those teeth.

Addressing thoughts of breeding

Breeding tiny dogs is not for the inexperienced and, in fact, has several disadvantages:

– A Caesarean delivery is likely.

– Serious postnatal complications such as eclampsia (a potentially fatal condition of the dam) are likely.

– Litters are small, so don’t count on raking in the bucks by selling lots of puppies.

– The requirements of a good breeder, which I discuss in Chapter In Search of Your Soul Mate, are stringent. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you meet the requirements?
  • Have you had the necessary health clearances performed on the potential sire and dam?
  • Has she proven herself in an objective competition to be of better-than-average quality?
Unless you’re adamant about wanting to breed your Pom, you’re safe to go forward with the castration or spaying.

Remember

Good Pomeranian breeders screen for hereditary defects, prove their dogs in some form of competition, educate themselves, and stand by their puppies for a lifetime. They often require that buyers neuter or spay their dogs (either by giving a partial refund when they do, withholding full ownership until they do, or registering the dog with a Limited Registration, so any puppies from it can’t be registered) because they know too well the problems that poor dog breeding can create.

Giving Your Pom a Chip on His Shoulder

One preventive veterinary measure you’ll want to take is preventing your Pom from becoming lost. Besides taking all the normal precautions, such as not letting him roam, keeping your fence secure, and having him wear a license, there’s one measure your veterinarian can help with: a microchip.
A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and is inserted just above the shoulders, beneath the dog’s skin, with an injection. Now, it takes a big needle to inject something this size, so I advise waiting until you have your dog spayed or castrated so she won’t feel it. Otherwise she’ll probably wince and may yip, but she’ll get over it.
The microchip transmits a number when a special reader is passed over it. This number can then be traced to you. Animal shelters check dogs for microchips when they come in and have reunited many lost pets with their families because of them.

Keeping Your Senior Pom Healthy

With the help of good care, good genes, and good luck, your Pomeranian will be with you for many years. He’ll mature gradually from perky pup to competent companion, getting better all the time. But one day, maybe when he’s anywhere from 8 to 12 years old, you’ll notice that he’s matured into a senior citizen, a stage that many Pomeranian owners contend is nonetheless the best time of all. But a Pom pensioner needs you to take special precautions to help him stay healthy and happy.

Eating and the elderly Pom

Older Poms need several small meals a day. If your grand Pom has tooth loss or other dental problems, you may need to feed her mushy foods. Both physical activity and metabolic rates slow in older dogs, so they tend to need fewer calories. And just like with humans, excessive weight can place a burden on the heart and joints. However, because very old dogs tend to lose weight, at some point you may find you’re trying to keep your dog’s weight on, not off.
Most older dogs don’t require a special diet unless they have a special medical condition (see Chapter Doctoring Your Dog). Moderate amounts of high-quality protein, such as those found in dog foods formulated for seniors, are especially important for seniors.

Coping with senior sensory problems

Older dogs, like older people, may experience sensory or cognitive losses. Fortunately, dogs deal well with these changes — better than most people do.

Vision loss

As your dog ages, you’ll start to notice a slight haziness in the pupils (black part) of his eyes. That change is normal and doesn’t affect vision that much. However, if the pupils become very gray or even white, he probably has cataracts.
A canine ophthalmologist can remove the lens and even replace it with an artificial lens, just like people get. Two concerns that your veterinarian will evaluate first are

– Is he healthy enough for surgery?

– Is the retina of his eye still functioning?

Cataract surgery is expensive — anywhere from $1,000 to (gulp) $5,000 — and entails a fair amount of aftercare, but it can make a world of difference for your dog.

Tip

Not all vision problems can be fixed, and you may not notice his vision is deteriorating until he’s almost blind. To help your senior Pom get around safely, take the following precautions:

– Block dangerous places (stairways and pools).

– Don’t move your furniture unnecessarily.

– Place sound and scent beacons (such as playing radios, ticking clocks, perfumed cloths, or stinky shoes that never move) around the house and yard so he can hear and smell where he is.

– Make pathways that he can feel with his paws (carpet runners inside and gravel walks outside).

Hearing loss

Tip

Older dogs also tend to lose their hearing. The ability to hear highpitched sounds usually goes first, so if you notice your dog isn’t responding to your call, try lowering the tone of your voice.

Unfortunately, dogs and hearing aids don’t mix, so your best bet is to help her understand new ways to communicate. For example, a dog can easily understand your simple hand signals, and she can respond to a flashing porch light when you want her to come inside. Also, be sure to pet your dog a lot; otherwise she’ll wonder why you quit talking to her.

Cognitive loss

If you find your older Pom walking around aimlessly, pacing back and forth, or standing in a corner looking like she’s stuck, she may be suffering from cognitive dysfunction. Basically, she’s not thinking as clearly as she once did. Your veterinarian can prescribe a drug (selegiline hydrochloride is the fancy name, but it goes by Anipryl) that may help her get back to being her old self. It doesn’t work for all dogs and may take weeks or longer to see a difference, but in those dogs that it works for, owners report almost miraculous improvements — just like her old self!

Tip

You can also help by involving her in activities and small mental challenges, either through games or by teaching her new tricks. If she enjoys the same games she did when she was younger (like short games of tag or fetch), great! Just be sure not to overdo them. She may prefer less strenuous activities, though. For example, hide treats around the room and challenge her to find them. Or take her for rides in the car; even though she may not be as demanding as she used to be, she probably still enjoys getting out and going places with you. Research has shown that these activities help ward off cognitive impairment.

Senior health concerns

Just as you start feeling more aches and pains as you age, so does your Pom. And unfortunately, it’s not just the bones and joints that go in older people or dogs. The heart, kidneys, and other organs may not function like they used to, and cancer is more likely to threaten health. This is a time when preventive health care really can be a life saver.

Remember

Your older Pomeranian needs a veterinary checkup twice a year. Although blood work was optional when she was younger, it’s a necessity now. Standard blood work can tell you whether she’s suffering from anemia, has elevated white blood cells indicating infection), or has too few platelets (indicating a clotting disorder). Other tests can tell you whether she has kidney failure, diabetes, liver failure, or other major problems.

Check out the following list of more common ailments and note how you can best respond to them:

Arthritis: Pomeranians stay perky even into their senior years, but you shouldn’t push the physical activities. Even if your Pom is used to jumping on and off furniture, encourage him to use doggy steps or a ramp (see Chapter Prepare to Be Pomerized!). Older dogs tend to have arthritic changes that can be made worse by such stresses. The same is true for exercise; you don’t want your older Pom to just lie around, but give him a soft bed when he does. You can help your arthritic dog by walking him a short distance (say, around the block, or less if it’s a big block) one or more times a day.

Tip

Also, ask your veterinarian about drugs such as carprofen that may help alleviate some of the symptoms of arthritis or even improve the joint. Glucosamine stimulates the production of collagen and may help rejuvenate cartilage. Chondroitin sulfate helps to protect cartilage from destructive enzymes. These medications are available from your veterinarian or most drug or health-food stores.

B.O.: Older dogs often have a stronger body odor than they did when younger. Search for its source. The most likely sources are the teeth, ear infections, or even kidney disease.

Warning!

Body temperature: Older dogs are more susceptible to both chilling and overheating, so be sure you keep an eye on whether he’s curled up and shivering or spread out and panting.

Dry skin: Dogs lose moisture in their skin as they age, making them itchy. Regular brushing can stimulate oil production. Also consider using a moisturizing conditioner when you bathe your dog.

Warning!

Digestion problems: Vomiting or diarrhea can dehydrate and debilitate an old dog quickly. They can also signal some serious problems such as kidney or liver failure. When he was younger, you may have waited a day or so before you took your dog to the veterinarian. Now that he’s older, don’t take a wait-and-see approach. Get him to the clinic today.

– Immune system deficiency: Because the immune system is less effective in older dogs, shielding him from infectious disease with vaccinations is now doubly important. However, if he’s turned into a homebody, the vaccination regimen may no longer be necessary. This decision remains controversial among veterinarians in the field. Ask your veterinarian about the latest guidelines.

Tooth problems: Tooth problems are very common in older Pomeranians. Bad breath, lip licking, reluctance to chew, and avoidance of hands near his mouth are all signs that your dog needs veterinary dental attention. Pulling loose teeth and cleaning the remaining teeth can help your dog feel much better.

Remember

In addition to the typical ailments that dogs of any age suffer, older dogs are far more vulnerable to a number of serious disorders. For example, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, and Cushing’s syndrome (which occurs when the adrenal glands make too much cortisol, causing a pot-bellied appearance, among other symptoms) are all much more common in older dogs. Symptoms of these disorders include

– Abdominal distension

– Appetite changes

– Coughing

– Diarrhea

– Increased thirst and urination

– Nasal discharge

– Weight loss

Many of these disorders can be treated successfully, especially if caught early (see Chapter Doctoring Your Dog). For this reason, don’t ignore these signs, especially in your older Pom. Old age, combined with small body size, mean Poms are somewhat vulnerable when ill. If you see any of these symptoms, get your Pom to the vet within the week; the sooner the better.
by D.Caroline Coile,Ph.D.

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